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Sci Tech

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2010

By       Message Gene Altshuler     Permalink
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Although every pundit, commentator and blogger is taking a whack at summarizing and characterizing the year, I promised myself that I would not succumb to the urge. After finishing Susan Jacoby's book The American Age of Unreason I changed my mind.

What a downer. I kick myself for ending the year with a book whose bleak, dystopian outlook is such a buzz killer. The holiday season, which is a time for renewal and hope, should not be bleak. And I am not talking about recent events like the systemic failure to intercept the airplane bomber. This is not bleak but disturbing, because the failure comes down to the same reason why we did not prevent the 9/11 tragedy a failure to share and collate intelligence. It reinforces the belief that the TSA is, in actuality, a jobs creation program.

I am fearful of the long-term future of our nation. A future in which our next generation will not have the capacity or interest to understand our history and a command of the tools necessary to improve their world. For example, an insufficient understanding of science and math leads inevitability to the inability to question and discredit junk science. Are my concern real or just the musings of a grumpy old man?

Jacoby lays out, in unrelenting fashion, the reasons to despair. Such things as political correctness which insists that all points of view, whether reasonable and fact based or simply predicated upon faith and/or a political agenda be given equal weight. Her chapter on The New Old-Time Religion is, in a word, powerful and explains the religious wrong, the fundamentalists and Evangelicals not just believing in bible inerrancy but set on forcing their belief system on others. The problem, as Jacoby says, is not that a good third of our congressmen and senators do not question such nonsense but that they themselves believe it. When our past president says, regarding the theory of evolution, that "The jury is still out" how can we not despair and cringe which the rest of the world rolls their eyes and either distains or hates us. Her following chapters simply hammer more nails in the coffin.

At the same time our colleges and universities are seemingly on the verge of turning into trade schools. Degrees in computer animation or fat studies belie the purpose of higher education. As Jacoby says "The job of higher education is not to instruct students in popular culture but to expose them to something better".


While most laud advances in technology, especially the Internet, as the panacea, Jacoby sees it as a distraction, a sinkhole of infotainment. My son, who is closely tied to the advertising world, and I have been having a running discourse on the future of media. I, of course, bewail the certain loss of mainstream journalism and its value to our society. He regales me with various emails and blog comments from his contemporaries about the new world of blogs and social media and why it is appropriate and inevitable that hardcore journalism will be displaced.

The essential loss fostered by television and the Internet is the loss of social discourse and reading. Simple conversation and not multi tasking. Reading the autobiography of Ben Franklin, by all measures a genius, statesman and scholar, one cannot but be struck by the fact that he had not one day of formal education beyond the age of ten. He self educated himself by scrounging up the coin to buy books and then discuss them ad nauseum. Most of all, his world gave him the time to think and ponder, free from that distraction of a multi media culture.

Currents events are no substitute for the perspective afforded by the passage of time. As William Manchester observed you cannot write history when there are bombs bursting in air, only report it. I am still riding the high when after eight years of seeing a country sorely in need of adult supervision, we finally have a president capable of understanding the complexities and nuances necessary to deal with the world. Not everyone will like every decision Obama makes or the pace of the change he promised, but one cannot argue that he has the intelligence to ask the right questions and the courage to accept the answers.

The Internet aside from giving me a chance to expound my biases and share my gleanings, brings me in touch with you who enrich my life. Where else would someone respond to one of my posts with a reference to Robert Paxton's discussion of the "protean quality of fascism" or refer to Richard Hofstadter's article on The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Where else could I "speak" to a group of people, not just those who share my values and concerns, and some who don't, who use words such as adamantine in an email note.

So as I look back on this year that started out with such euphoria and is ending, for me, on a downward note, I thank you for being there. And most of all for sharing your worldviews and concerns with me and inviting me to share mine with you.

A happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to all.

 

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Retired as a Partner in Charge of Advanced Information Technology from KPMG Peat Marwick. Serves as Finance Chair of the El Dorado County Central Committee in northern California and a delegate to the California Democratic Party.

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